Tip of Religion
last day of sixth grade the boy I liked the most, Chris Isola walks up
to me with an arrowhead made of obsidian clenched in his freckled hand.
He gives me one of his magnanimous grins and hucks that tool into the
cleft below my left eye. The damage done, I head to my Grandmother's
store in hopes of consolation, or at the very least, an explanation.
My grandmother has had a junk store on Main Street in Sisters, Oregon
for twenty five years. She's good friends with the Sheriff, John Long,
who really isn't a Sheriff, though twenty years ago he was. Now John
Long spends a lot of time at the B-bar-B saloon just next door to
Esther's shop. John Long is shorter than I am by three and a half
inches. He still wears the straw cowboy hat from his Sheriff days. He
likes drinking more than law work. He doesn't like the old tin beer
signs we have at the shop. He goes for blue cobalt glass. Who could
I think of telling the Sheriff about my afternoon, but I kind of would
rather not talk to another man or boy ever again in life, even if
justice depends on it.
It's Rodeo weekend and John Long asks if I'll mind his hot-dog cart.
It's on wheels, and in the middle of the dirt street. Sometimes it gets
interesting: fist-fights, run-aways, barn dances, swinging saloon
doors, many discarded beer cans. I look at Esther and she nods.
Free hot dogs is what it means to me. Sauerkraut, stewed tomatoes,
onions; condiments worth coveting. John Long says it's the way they do
it in Philadelphia, a place he lived for about ten minutes in another
life. He winks and admits it gives him the corner on the tube steak
Once at the helm I notice the whorling dirt. A series of miniature
dust-devils circling and dissipating. They are coming directly for the
cart, hungry, dirty, sweating, and serious. Looks to be seven in the
bunch. Bikers. The one out front's heavier. His long, stringy gray hair
is barely captured by a fracturing pink rubber band. His belly touches
the front of my cart. "Give us a dog," he says. "How many?" I ask,
already starting the first couple of buns. "One each," he says as I
count them up. I'm not bad for a first timer.
The buns are out, and the dogs are in. "Onions?" I ask. "Catsup?"
"Mustard?" I ask, and then it happens. I pick up the plastic Mustard
container. It's almost empty. With such a small amount of mustard
inside it's going to make the noise. I know it will. The farting noise.
I dread the action of squeezing. My face heats up. I'm sure it shows. I
squeeze. My face becomes a griddle on which I could do up eggs, and
sausages. Now I get uncomfortable. I get pissed. I'm pissed that these
bikers have made me red-faced. I have been told about bikers, and their
"So," I start in, mustard bottle in my hand like a second fist, "I hear
you guys terrorize women. Is that true?" I ask, looking directly into
his narrowing green peepers. My stare sparks the mind behind those
eyes. He cocks his head to the left, itches behind a carbuncled ear and
attempts to clarify things for me. "No. Listen, here's how it is: let's
say that you were a grown woman and you and I went over to the dance
they got going in the Grange Hall tonight, then let's say after dancing
all night you jump on the back of my bike and head back to our camp at
the lake, we unzip the tent and crawl right in. (pause) You can't
change your mind."
The mustard's gone and so is my patience. I make up the difference in
mayonnaise, explaining that the Scandinavians won't eat a dog without
the stuff. You wouldn't believe how many bikers claim to be of
Scandinavian descent. Perhaps this would explain the predilection for
braids. They pay me for the dogs and eat them in front of me, waiting
for a response from me. I don't give them one right away. I'm thinking
of the Vikings, their history, the calves I've seen in the history
"I think I understand what you're telling me." I finally say.
I see Sheriff stumbling from the B-bar-B into Esther's shop. He waves
me over. "That's the boss," I say, backing the cart on to hind wheels.
"Have to go," I tell them. "Listen, what's your name?" the big guy
asks. I tell him. "Alice Marie," he says, "here's my card. Don't ever
lose it. If anyone ever bothers you, anyone at all, ever, in your life,
call the number there. I'll take care of it for you, whatever it is."
He had, had himself ordained a minister of a biker church. It said so
right on the card. I pocket the thing, wiping the catsup off of his
Once back at Esther's shop I pull out the card, and tap it on the
Formica table. I'm smiling like the devil, and my grandmother is
smiling back at me. Chris Isola has no idea what is coming. No idea at
all. But I do.